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Third Grade Reading ChallengesI have been a vision therapist for over two decades and have worked with hundreds of children in our vision therapy program. Recently, a parent asked, “What is the most common age of our patients?” That was very easy to answer, and required no research at all. The majority of our patients are in the third grade, aged 8 or 9.

You might be wondering, “Why third grade?” The answer is easy.   In kindergarten through second grade, the children are “learning to read”. By third grade they are, “reading to learn”.   Reading challenges rear their ugly head when third-grade teachers expect their students to be more independent at this age, especially with reading directions on their own.  Looking back to when I taught second grade, as we approached the end of the year, the third grade teacher would constantly remind me to begin weaning the kids – from so much “spoon feeding” as she would call it. The children needed to be ready for her more rigorous expectations. Some were ready, others, not so much. And again, in reference to one of my past articles, “If only I knew then, what I know now”.

Third Grade = Big Changes with Reading

The material the children are reading in third grade has more words on the page and the print is much smaller. Chapter books become all the rage.  For some children, this is a welcomed and exciting time. For others, reading becomes more of a chore.  Reading is not something that would ever be considered a fun activity to do during their spare time.

Why Do Some Kids Love Reading and Others Hate It?

In my experience, for the ones who hate to read, it is not because they are lazy or they do not enjoy learning new things. It is because reading can be physically exhausting and uncomfortable. Have you ever noticed that the child who hates to read on their own has no problems being read to?  Or the child has great comprehension and understanding of what was read to them?

Most children who have reading issues become good auditory learners because they are not able to get the information through their visual system.  In turn, they rely heavily on what they hear in order to understand. Obviously being an auditory learner is not a bad thing but visual learning through reading is just as or even more important.

Why is Reading Exhausting and Uncomfortable for Some?

Many children struggle with tracking issues that cause them to skip words and lines on the page or add words that are not there. In the younger grades when the amount of material was far less, this problem might have gone undetected.  Often, it is  not until the reading demand becomes greater in the third grade that tracking issues become more noticeable. Skipping words or lines while reading plays havoc on comprehension and in turn, school performance. Reading becomes visually exhausting and downright uncomfortable – making the task unenjoyable.

Physical Discomfort with Reading and Near Work

What if your eyes hurt and watered every time you tried to read?  What if you got headaches when trying to complete school work? Wouldn’t you try to avoid reading or near work at all costs? Do you think it would take an excessive amount of time to complete the assigned work?

Sounds like “Homework Wars” in the making: you know the battle of taking three hours to get a half of an hour’s worth of work done. The yelling, frustration and crying coming from not only the child but the parent as well. The Homework Wars are often symptomatic of a Convergence Insufficiency (CI).  CI occurs when the eyes are unable to turn in comfortably for extended amounts of time while doing close-up work. Most children with CI have always had these issues, but are unaware that this is not normal vision as they think everyone sees the same way.

If you suspect that your child might be struggling with any of the vision isms mentioned, find a developmental optometrist in your area.  Find a practitioner via The College of Optometrists and Vision Development (COVD). Your child will never be able to avoid the third grade, but correcting these issues sooner rather than later, will lead to a lifetime of more productive and enjoyable reading.